USC Trojan fans are anxiously awaiting the start of a new season in a new and improved stadium, with a new and improved team. Here are five questions that fans and experts alike have on their minds before kickoff on Aug. 31.
1.) Who is the most important player on offense?
Matthew: It starts and ends with the quarterback so I’m going to say JT Daniels. While he hasn’t been named the starter yet, we know that’s the direction its going. Daniels is going to be the most important player on that side of the ball because the reality is that the offense will go as far as his performance takes them. Last season he was tabbed to make plays in an offense with no identity and most of his decisions put the them in a deep hole. However, there were other factors that played a part in the Trojans offensive struggles. If Daniels can take advantage of Harrell’s simplified air raid offense and get the ball out of his hands quickly then the offense will se a lot of success.
Dina: JT Daniels will be vital to this USC team. Assuming he is the starter, Graham Harrell and USC will need someone to take its new offense to new heights. Hopefully a year under his belt has prepared Daniels for leading a championship contending team. Without a competent quarterback all the pre-season hype and excitement about change will be for nothing. Michael Pittman Jr. and Co. will need someone who can get the ball into their hands. USC does boast one of the best wide receiver corps in the nation. Without a solid quarterback USC’s offense will sputter once again.
2.) Who is the most important player on defense?
Matthew: Christian Rector is an important player on the defensive side of the ball. USC needs the pass rush to take a huge step forward this season. The senior defensive end will take a more natural edge rushing role on the team which should help him get into the backfield a lot more quicker. If Rector can have the same success and effect as Porter Gustin and Uchenna Nwosu had the past two seasons, then the Trojans’ defense can tackle a portion of what hurt them last season.
Dina: Defensive captain Christian Rector needs to set an example. Now the veteran on the team, Rector needs to fill former sack leader Porter Gustin’s shoes in both energy and output. Last year Rector was second in total sacks and tackles for loss. The defensive end needs to generate pressure and sacks on opposing teams if USC wants to be dominate.
3.) What should be the biggest change between last year and this year?
Matthew: The team’s intensity should definitely be the biggest change from this season to last season. Last season it felt as if the team was lacking some fight and intensity which was obvious and painful to watch. The sense of urgency just wasn’t there. Through spring and fall camp the vibe appears to be different. New voices are around following the coaching changes made, competition being has been brought back into the program, new strength and conditioning attitude, and a more intense Clay Helton has improved things at USC. You could even see it during Pac-12 media day when the players spoke in interviews. Whether it’ll translate to the field is something we’ll have to wait and see, but definitely we’ll see a more intense and determined Trojans team.
Dina: In theory it should be the offense that sees the biggest change. New offensive coordinator, new playbook and a fresh opportunity to erase that pesky 5-7 season from fans’ minds. There has yet to be a bad thing said about Harrell and his system and it seems the simplifying of the playbook has had a positive effect on the Trojan offense. Daniels and his receivers look more relaxed and the positive vibe coming from spring camp stemmed from new man Harrell.
4.) What is the most important game on the schedule?
Matthew: Friday, September 20 should be a date circled on everyones calendar. The defending Pac-12 South Champions Utah Utes will make their way to the L.A. Coliseum to face the Trojans. Utah is the overwhelming favorite to win the South once again and for good reason. They return just about everyone on the defensive side of the ball and get quarterback Tyler Huntley, wide receiver Brittan Covey and running back Zack Moss back on the offense. The game with the Utes will most likely put the winner in the driver seat of the division. It’ll be critical for USC for a couple of reasons. A win could put them in a great position moving forward, especially coming off of two physical games against Stanford and BYU. A loss could send the Trojans in a three game free fall with two rough road games against Washington and Notre Dame coming up. The Utah game will be an important point in the Trojans season.
Dina: USC’s home matchup against pre-season No. 11 Oregon will be key to USC’s momentum heading into the end of the season. Will USC be riding a win streak or will it be looking for a redemption performance? Will Oregon have lived up to the pre-season hype or will they come into the Coliseum with a few losses on their record? Either way this conference matchup between the North and South will most likely be shown in prime time. Oregon is 20-39-2 against USC all time, its last win in the Coliseum in 2012. Look for an offensive showdown come November.
5.) What are our predictions for W/L record and postseason destination?
Matthew: This is the year where the Trojans season will go one of two ways. A major turn around or a one game improvement. I see USC going 8-4 which is still an improvement from last season. The first five games of the season will ultimately tell us about the Trojans early on. If they can sustain that rough patch of the season then they’ll be in a great position. USC will return to a bowl game, however it will be a trip to El Paso for the Sun Bowl on New Years Eve. The Friday night match up with Utah will be a difference in the Trojans’ season.
Dina: USC has a daunting first six games of the season, including a treacherous away game at rival Notre Dame. The Trojan offense needs to be in top form to come out of the stretch alive. I can see the Trojans being 4-2, with losses coming from Washington and Notre Dame, heading into their home game against Arizona on October 19. My final regular season prediction is a 9-3 record, with the Victory Bell back on campus and a Holiday Bowl berth.